Dear Reformed Christian Young People,
When you attend public or state universities, I trust that you are prepared for a hostile reception and an assault on your Christian faith and life. The antichristian vehemence may be hurtful, but it is not surprising.
You expect different from a Christian college.
If you do, or hope to, attend a Christian college, you may be thankful for what Christianity, even Reformed Christianity, and Christian morals there are in the institution you choose. I speak from experience, both personally and as a father. My own education was in both secular and Christian (Reformed) institutions of higher learning. I preferred by far to be in the Christian institution. And of my four sons who have graduated from college, two attended a Christian college and two a state university. All four got a quality education. But the two who attended the Christian college were grateful not only for the quality education, but also for the Christianity that was present.
At the same time, cautions— strong and sharp—must be issued to you who attend Christian colleges. As you know, just because an institution has the name Christian does not mean that all it teaches is Christian. In fact, the name Christian may tempt you to suppose that what is taught is always truly Christian. It is not. I write that also from personal experience.
My particular warning here is not against the error of evolutionism, although the Christian universities are full of evolutionism and its related evils—and both the roots and fruits (the causes and consequences) of evolutionism are deadly. Promote six-day creationism and you will find that although the campus may fund your club, you will be scorned, even if not to your face. The most recent World magazine (September 11, 2010) analyzes America’s Christian colleges regarding their stance on creationism. You may read for yourself which ones not only will not teach young earth creationism, but openly espouse evolutionism.
My particular warning is not, either, against egalitarianism—the doctrine of equal rights, especially for women, in society and in the church—although you must be warned that also egalitarianism is rampant in many of the colleges. A generation ago when I attended a Christian college, the most popular philosophy professor on campus, now a world-renowned church leader, boldly proclaimed that Christ’s resurrection accomplished two very important works: it both liberated women and instituted civil disobedience. I was relieved the genial professor didn’t sense how stunned I was. (My guilty silence still troubles me.) But can you imagine? Nothing about Jesus’ victory over sin and death, or His breaking of the devil’s power, or His earning for the elect the spiritual blessings of salvation, centered in the forgiveness of sins. But this: liberating women and permitting civil disobedience! According to this respected teacher, Christ’s resurrection liberated women because women in the Old Testament were not permitted to be legal witnesses of anything; yet Christ purposely arranged that they would be the first legal witnesses of this most important event. By this, women were liberated…of course, now to serve in church office! And civil disobedience? Christ broke the magistrate’s seal on His tomb, which now gives us permission to engage in civil disobedience. If any other students objected to this absurdity—really wickedness—no one dared admit it. This was 30 years ago. Equal rights has been promoted for a long time, and still is. But that’s not my warning.
Nor is my warning about the moral evils that have infected some of the Christian colleges in North America—especially the permissiveness regarding homosexuality, another great evil in the colleges and churches. Some Christian colleges have special days of recognition for homosexuals on campus. The college chaplain leads a service calling for understanding, and the homosexual lobbyists hold hands on the lawn. But that warning can be sounded again another time.
The greater threat
I warn against something I judge to be worse, and far more dangerous for Christian youth. I refer not to an issue, but to a way of thinking, a way of thinking about Christianity, the church, and God’s kingdom and purposes in the world. I refer to a way of thinking that completely forms a young person’s hope for the future, his or her vision of what to expect in the world, his understanding of the church’s calling today, his sense of personal responsibility in society, and his view of God’s purposes in creation. Although warnings against the other evils I mentioned are necessary, and necessary to sound repeatedly, the warning against this evil is urgent.
It is specially urgent because very few have sounded the alarm regarding the new thinking in Christian circles.
I refer to the teaching in Christian colleges that puts God’s church in the background and God’s kingdom (whatever now they mean by that) in the foreground. God’s salvation of souls and His preservation of His truth are less important; promoting God’s kingdom (whatever now they mean by that) is more important. Maintaining doctrine in the church is set aside for promoting the kingdom by the church (however that may happen). Orthodoxy (“straight doctrine“) is traded for orthopraxy (“straight or correct actions“). Confessing truth is less important (perhaps unimportant, if you would judge by its neglect) than doing good and maintaining justice in the kingdom (with their definition of the kingdom). In fact, when this view fully has its way, confessing and defending truth may well be a detriment to the church’s real calling.
Because there is a certain jargon that becomes a part of every movement, you should be able to recognize their catchphrases. Common lingo includes Kingdom Building, Community Development, Social Justice, Urban Ministry, Extending the Lordship of Christ, and a multitude of combinations referring to culture: Renewing Culture, Redeeming Culture, Transforming Culture. The college student will listen carefully for these buzzwords that are aspects of what is sometimes called a Reformational Worldview—another phrase that should alert you.
Church or kingdom?
But chiefly keep your ears open for references to God’s kingdom. The new thinking makes God’s kingdom a kingdom of this world. It is the Christianization of this world in politics, economics, and entertainment. It contends that God’s kingdom must come in “every sphere of human life,” in the state, in politics, in society. It advances through business and industry, arts and entertainment, and especially through developing communities, renewing cities, and eliminating poverty, unemployment, injustice, pollution, and waste.
According to one denomination, all this will establish God’s kingdom “over all creation” and “in our present age.” The hope is here and now. Here: the earthly creation! And now: this present age! The believer’s hope is not directed to heaven, where the dead saints have gone to be with Christ. His hope is not the resurrection of the body, made like Christ’s. It’s not the visible second coming of Jesus Christ, or the new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells after the second coming. The hope of this new view is Christian politics, Christian businesses, Christian societies, and a Christian entertainment industry. Here and now.
To attain this “kingdom building” hope, church members must be busy in many things, but the emphasis is on the City, with a capital “C.” And the City of God is not the church. The City of God is what you see (or hope to see) out there in the mayor’s or governor’s office, the institute for economic development, the universities, grocery stores, hospitals, banks, and sports stadiums.
I could explain more if I had more room this time, but I trust that every student who has spent time at a Christian college recognizes this mentality, its lingo, and what it promotes.
But this is not God’s kingdom according to the historic Reformed faith and the Scriptures. I pray that you are aware of this, are able to recognize the error of the thinking, and if the occasion is proper, can give a defense of the Reformed view.
The church is God’s kingdom (I’ll explain that more next time). We promote the kingdom by promoting the church. That’s not to say that the Christian is not interested in politics, business, education, even sports; or even that if his life’s vocation or avocation is in any of these areas, that he’s not interested in governing these spheres, according to his ability, by biblical principles. Of course he is. But this is to say that he must not suppose that a society or world that has been permeated by Christians is God’s kingdom, that the church’s task is to make the world Christian, or that his hope (a certain expectation and longing!) is on a Christianized society here and now. Next time I hope to show that from the Scriptures, from the confessions, and from church history.
You understand the effects on a Christian’s conduct (to say nothing of the church’s conduct!) when he adopts this view.
First, he will think less of church membership than of his earthly citizenship. The church herself will diminish in importance and the “kingdom” will increase. This view even holds that the church—the precious, blood bought body of Jesus Christ!—is merely one of many tools that God uses to establish His kingdom. And logic says that once a tool has built what the tool was designed to build, the tool may be set aside. Besides, the church may not even be the most important tool to establish the kingdom. So when teams go out to “develop cities,” a preacher of the gospel may be involved, but only right alongside of other, just as important, people, like social scientists, agricultural experts, and Christians who can advise on how to build and maintain a medical system. My warning, you understand, does not mean that Christians should not be social scientists, advise poor communities on good agricultural practices, or even accompany a missionary to give medical treatment to converts. My warning, at least in this paragraph, is to say: “Do not suppose that these build God’s kingdom! His kingdom is the church!”
Second, the effect of this mindset will be to downplay truth and orthodoxy. Of course orthopraxy is important! The Christian faith has always spoken of godliness that flows out of truth, of faith that “works by love.” But the new orthopraxy politely (and sometimes impolitely) disparages orthodoxy because promoting orthodoxy causes friction among Christians, divides Christian communities. It always has. Jesus Christ, who is the Truth with a capital “T,” promised that it would. But the new “kingdom builders” suppose that doctrinal battles are energy-wasters that hinder Christians from working together for the “common good,” and that if all Christians could work together on the social projects, God’s kingdom would be established far sooner. So, lower the doctrinal walls that divide, unite the churches into one or enable them to work together, and make progress on the important matters. Kingdom. Not church. Kingdom.
Third, the effect of this thinking will be to dim the believer’s hope for heaven, for the second, bodily appearance of Jesus Christ to judge the world and redeem the church. The hopes for those who have this view are not up, but down.
“A Pastoral Warning” may sound soft. It is not. It is a strong warning. It is a call to beware of gravest danger! It is a call to arms. Defend yourselves and your children.
My warning does not call anyone to reject any Christian college. It calls God’s people to be discerning. It also calls God’s people to seek the kingdom, love the kingdom, promote the kingdom, by being faithful members in the church of Christ, live godly in all spheres of life, and pray fervently, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Next time I will point out how this new thinking defends itself, even as being Reformed, but how it isn’t; and what Reformed Christians— college students and others— can do to maintain the traditional and biblical view of the kingdom and the Christian’s calling in the world.